Tag Archives: cycling

A tale of two cycle trips…

At noon on 15th September 1986, Vicky Stammers and I set off on our bikes from Westminster Bridge, cheered off by friends and relatives and a class of school children. Our destination was China and we had spent a year preparing for this trip. About nine months later, slightly battered and bedraggled as well as nearly three stone lighter, I cycled across the high Himalayan border between Nepal and Tibet and officially entered the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Part of the brochure that we produced for our 1986 ride.
Part of the brochure that we produced for our 1986 ride.

The journey was both more fulfilling and more taxing than either of us expected. After many adventures together, I had to leave Vicky in Kathmandu, resting after injuring her back – the road to Tibet becomes impassable following the monsoon, so we took a joint decision that I would press on ahead in order to fulfil our obligations. In fact, the route was very nearly impassable – there had been some severe storms and in places I had to carry my bike across landslides and rockfalls. I also began to lose weight alarmingly quickly. In fact I was suffering from a form of amoebic dysentery, although I didn’t know it at the time. Although I made it across the Tibetan border, I was stopped in side China by an Army patrol and prevented from cycling. Vicky and I met up again in Chengdu, in western China. We made our way back to the UK and were married the next year. The trip raised £14,000 for work in Eritrea and Tigray.

Thirty years later, almost to the day (September 18th 2016), I will be setting off on a slightly less ambitious trip, also for a very good cause. Hopefully it will also be less calamitous than my 1986 efforts! Some of you may remember that three years ago I joined colleagues in the industry to raise money for Perennial with our Three Peaks Extreme challenge. We climbed the three highest peaks in the UK, and cycled between them, in just 5 days raising over £26,000 for our industry charity. This time, two teams of cyclists will set off from Snowdon in September 2016, one team on road bikes, the other on mountain bikes, both aiming for Lands End. One team will stay on-road, the other will ride exclusively off-road. Needless to say, I am in the on-road team! It is no picnic – over the course of six days, I will climb over the height Everest by bike and more than the height of Ben Nevis each day! Total distance is a little shy of 500 miles.

Four happy faces after 107 miles and seven punctures!
Four happy faces after 107 miles and seven punctures!

Training is going well so far – I cycled 173km (107miles) yesterday and I am topping that up with two or three shorter rides during the week. Finding enough time during the working week can be difficult, but luckily at about 40km of hilly terrain, my journey to or from the office can be easily converted to a training run!

The main purpose of this is to raise funds for a great charity close to my heart, called Perennial.  This may not seem an obvious first choice, but for those in the landscape industry, it can be a lifesaver. There are 500,000 people working in or retired from horticulture in the UK. Many are not well paid and pension provision is poor. In addition, Horticulture has one of the worst rates of workplace injury – perhaps not surprising, given it often involves working at height, in cold and wet conditions and operating machinery. Horticulturists are completely dependent on their good health and physical fitness to be able to work, an accident can have severe consequences for the horticulturist and their family. Perennial exists to support them when the going gets tough, which can be as a result of illness, bereavement or workplace injury. For more information about who and how Perennial helps, visit: http://perennial.org.uk/home/ways-we-can-help/

To donate to the challenge visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/John-Wyer. There is also a team page here. I’ll post some pictures and an account of the ride here afterwards.

Cycling my way to good design

As I am sure some (if not most of you) know I am a keen cyclist. Regular readers of the blog will have picked up on this through the pieces I did on the Three Peaks Extreme event that I took part in September 2013. (Find them here)

When I was on that trip, I began to muse on the parallels between cycling and design. I trained hard for that mad caper, which involved a lot of cycling through tough countryside on my own, often after a hard day’s work. I am a fairly heavy guy, so hills have always been my Achilles heel. I used to get despondent on climbs, slowing down and feeling that the hill was getting the better of me. The task became huge and started to sap all the pleasure out of the cycling (this despite having cycled up a few mountains in my time.) And although I would be the first to admit that I am a bit of a speed junkie when it comes to cycling, especially down hills (when a larger frame really comes into its own!) my attitude to cycling is sort of summed up by ‘You don’t have to go fast, you just have to go’. I suppose what I mean is that in a sport obsessed by time and speed, actually the greatest pleasure comes from just doing it. I have never won a cycle race. Most garden designers have (like me) never done Chelsea, never been on TV (for garden design at any rate!) and are rarely in the magazines. But we do this because we love it; and there is a lot to love, not least the intense sense of promise at the start of a project (or a bike ride). The travel writer William Least Heat-Moon said that “The open road is a beckoning, a place where a man can lose himself”. You might as well say “a blank sheet of white paper is a beckoning…”. When I sit down, marker pen in hand, in front of a blank pad of layout paper, with its luminous depth of whiteness, I feel as though I stand on the edge of a lake about to dive in.

All too often though, I start to suffer ‘design constipation’ – the longer the timeslot available to do the design, the worse it gets. I have written about this before (Where do ideas come from?) but there is another parallel with hills and cycling here – to be successful, you have to get in the ‘zone’. Quite often, when I am cycling on my own, I get in an almost ‘Zen’ like state (bear with me here!); the swish of the wheels, the whirr of the pedals and cranks, and the wind whistling past is hypnotic, especially given one’s own body rhythm. Cycling when in this state is much easier – the miles fly by. Even when I am not in my own little world, when I get to an incline, I often deliberately think of something else: some all-consuming train of thought and before I know it I am at the top of the hill. Design is a bit like that, don’t you find? It often creeps up on you sideways and when you try and think of it directly, it skittles away.

Garden design in particular can be a lonely existence. Many garden designers work from home on their own. Sometimes exhilarating, sometimes dispiriting but in both cases no-one to share it with. During the summer I cycle a lot on my own, but I also go out once a week with friends for a ride. Cycling in a group (particularly a tight formation) is 30% more efficient than on one’s own. You can cover much greater distances and it is one of the few exercises where one can easily talk at the same time. Company and shared experience are essential to make the most of solitary pursuit.

To finish, one more quote, this time from John F Kennedy: “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”. Except perhaps a well-executed design?